Unification minister issues ‘strong warning’ to N.Korea

By Ji Da-gyum
Published : April 11, 2023 - 16:00

South Korean Unification Minister Kwon Young-se gives a statement against North Korea at the government complex in Seoul on April 11, 2023. He expressed strong regret over the North's refusal to answer daily calls via an inter-Korean liaison line and a military hotline and "strongly" condemned the North's repeated unauthorized use of South Korean assets left behind at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North. (Yonhap)

The South Korean unification minister on Tuesday strongly warned that North Korea’s unilateral severance of cross-border hotlines will eventually put itself in a predicament, urging North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to stop heightening tensions and make a “wise decision.”

Unification Minister Kwon Young-se made the remarks in a rare public statement after North Korea refused to take regularly held inter-Korean calls from South Korea for five days without explanation since last Friday. The move is a violation of the mutual commitment to conduct calls twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, via liaison and military hotlines.

Kwon’s statement marks the first time since July 2013 when then-Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae released a statement on proposing inter-Korean talks to resume the operation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

But unlike in the past, Kwon did not offer any olive branch to North Korea.

“The government expresses strong regret for North Korea’s unilateral and irresponsible attitude and strongly warns that this will ultimately isolate North Korea itself and end up in a more difficult situation,” Kwon said during a televised news conference.

Kwon denounced North Korea for “consistently having shown an insincere and uncooperative attitude toward communication between South and North Korea, such as refusal to receive our notices.”

Kwon underscored that the warning comes at a juncture when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has “escalated tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” citing the key military meeting convened by Kim on Monday as one example.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (standing, R) speaks during a meeting of the central military commission of the ruling Workers' Party on April 10, 2023, in this photo provided by the North's official Korean Central News Agency. (Yonhap)

Hours before Kwon’s news conference, North Korean state media reported that the North Korean leader had reviewed plans to attack South Korea on the front lines at the meeting, pointing to targets marked on a large map of South Korean territory.

Kim presided over the sixth enlarged meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea at the party headquarters in Pyongyang on Monday, state media reported Tuesday.

North Korean key military officials “clearly recognized the gravity of the current security situation on the Korean Peninsula where aggressive military policy and actions of the US imperialists and South Korean puppet traitors are emerging as a threatening entity,” North Korean state media said in a Korean-language dispatch.

Against that backdrop, the officials “discussed practical issues and organizational matters to devise various plans for military actions that enemies can never counter by any means and unanimously approved the decision.”

During the meeting, Kim examined and reviewed “operational plans for front-line attacks and various combat documents,” state media said, releasing photos of Kim pointing to specific targets marked in a blurred map of South Korea. The photos suggested that Kim was pointing to the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area and the city of Pyeongtaek where the headquarters of the United States Forces Korea is located.

“The respected comrade Kim Jong-un underscored the need to expand the country’s war deterrence, which has been strengthened at accelerated speeds, more practically and offensively and effectively operate it as a way to strictly manage and control the increasingly grave security situation on the Korean Peninsula,” state media said.

Experts said Kim’s bellicose rhetoric at the meeting has different significance in light of the days-long severance of military-to-military hotlines.

“The hotlines have been cut off, which is a safety pin that can prevent mutual misunderstandings, accidental military conflicts, and escalation to a war,” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

North Korea’s decision to sever military hotlines as well as the outcome of the enlarged meeting are “sufficient to heighten tensions and sense of crisis,” the professor said.

Kim said North Korea could seek to adroitly provoke South Korea to take military action near the inter-Korean border during the crab fishing season between April and June. Fishing boats from the two Koreas catch blue crabs near the Northern Limit Line, a disputed inter-Korea maritime border in the West Sea.

Speaking at a news conference, Kwon underscored that his statement was not intended to raise tensions on the peninsula. Rather, he decided to come forward in the hope that North Korea will renounce its decision to take the “wrong path."

“My announcement intends to call for chairman Kim Jong-un to make a wise decision at this juncture,” Kwon said.

Kwon also publicly denounced North Korea for illegally using facilities that South Korean companies have left at the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex in the border city of Kaesong, and for ignoring numerous calls and warnings from the South Korean government.

“The government strongly condemns such illegal acts of violating the Agreement on Inter-Korean Investment Protection reached between the two Koreas and the Kaesong Industrial Complex Act of North Korea,” Kwon said.

“We clearly state that the North will be solely responsible for the consequences.”

Kwon said South Korea will seek to take “every possible measure, including legal action, to hold North Korea accountable for its illegal actions as stated on April 6, and will actively cooperate with the international community to that end."

North Korea’s silent treatment began the day after South Korea’s Unification Ministry tried to send a written statement to North Korea through the liaison hotline urging the North not to illegally operate South Korea-owned factories and vehicles at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. North Korea rejected receiving the statement on Thursday morning. Then, the Unification Ministry openly warned that it would take “necessary measures” against the infringement of property rights should North Korea ignore its request.

By Ji Da-gyum (dagyumji@heraldcorp.com)


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